Bulrush Marsh

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System: Palustrine
Subsystem: Herbaceous
PA Ecological Group(s): Marsh Wetland

Global Rank:GNR rank interpretation
State Rank: S3

Bulrush Marsh
Bulrush Marsh, PNHP

General Description

These are communities dominated by soft-stem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), and/or hard-stem bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus), or less commonly threesquare (Schoenoplectus pungens), bulrush (Schoenoplectus purshianus), river bulrush (Schoenoplectus fluviatilis), or Torrey's bulrush (Schoenoplectus torreyi). This community type occurs along slow moving sections of large rivers, lake and pond margins, on mudflats, and in shallow water – both tidal and non-tidal.

Rank Justification

Vulnerable in the jurisdiction due to a restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation.


  • Clear dominance of great bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), and/or great bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus)
  • Found in a variety of wetland settings, most commonly in quiet-water areas along the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, and larger streams, but also in flooded basins and ditches
  • Deep water (usually 0.5-1 m deep)
  • Seasonal spring flooding and heavy rainstorms provide nutrient input
  • Substrate is usually either gravel and sand or deep muck overlying mineral soil; where wave action is more prevalent, the mineral soil may be exposed

* limited to sites with higher soil calcium
Vascular plant nomenclature follows Rhoads and Block (2007). Bryophyte nomenclature follows Crum and Anderson (1981).

International Vegetation Classification Associations:

USNVC Crosswalk:


Representational Types:

Bulrush Deepwater Marsh (CEGL006275)

NatureServe Ecological Systems:

Laurentian-Acadian Freshwater Marsh (CES201.594)
High Allegheny Wetland (CES202.069)

NatureServe Group Level:


Origin of Concept

Fike, J. 1999. Terrestrial and palustrine plant communities of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Recreation, Bureau of Forestry, Harrisburg, PA. 86 pp.

Pennsylvania Community Code*

HR : Bullrush Marsh

*(DCNR 1999, Stone 2006)

Similar Ecological Communities

Bulrush Marsh is easily distinguished by its clear dominance of bulrushes (Schoenoplectus spp.). It may occur in combination with virtually any community type that approaches a water body having the appropriate substrate.

Fike Crosswalk

Bulrush Marsh

Conservation Value

Several rare plants such as the state threatened hard-stem bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus), state vulnerable river bulrush (Schoenoplectus fluviatilis), or state endangered Torrey's bulrush (Schoenoplectus torreyi) can occur in this community. This community may serve as important habitat for fish by providing cover and foraging grounds.


Alteration to the hydrological regime and development are the major threats to this community (e.g., impoundments) and can lead to habitat destruction and/or shifts in community function and dynamics. Clearing and development of adjacent land can lead to accumulation of agricultural run-off and pollution as well as sedimentation.


A natural buffer around the wetland should be maintained in order to minimize nutrient runoff, pollution, and sedimentation. The potential for soil erosion based on soil texture, condition of the adjacent vegetation (mature forests vs. clearcuts) and the topography of the surrounding area (i.e., degree of slope) should be considered when establishing buffers. The buffer size should be increased if soils are erodible, adjacent vegetation has been logged, and the topography is steep as such factors could contribute to increased sedimentation and nutrient pollution. Direct impacts and habitat alteration should be avoided (e.g., roads, trails, filling of wetlands) and low impact alternatives (e.g., elevated footpaths, boardwalks, bridges) should be utilized in situations where accessing the wetland can not be avoided. Care should also be taken to control and prevent the spread of invasive species within the wetland.

Research Needs

There is a need to collect plot data to characterize variations and guide further classification of this community. There is also a need to document how fauna use this habitat.


These wetlands were probably more common but declined due to wetland draining/filling and clearing of the adjacent lands leading to increased evaporation of the standing water and sedimentation. The relative trend for this community is likely stable or may be declining slightly due to hydrological alterations.

Range Map

range map

Pennsylvania Range


Global Distribution

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Bartgis, R. L. 1983. Vegetation ecology of marl wetlands in eastern West Virginia. M.S. thesis, West Virginia University, Morgantown.

Bowman, P. 2000. Draft classification for Delaware. Unpublished draft. Delaware Natural Heritage Program.

Breden, T. F., Y. R. Alger, K. S. Walz, and A. G. Windisch. 2001. Classification of vegetation communities of New Jersey: Second iteration. Association for Biodiversity Information and New Jersey Natural Heritage Program, Office of Natural Lands Management, Division of Parks and Forestry, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Trenton.

Byers, E. A., J. P. Vanderhorst, and B. P. Streets. 2007. Classification and conservation assessment of high elevation wetland communities in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. West Virginia Natural Heritage Program, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Elkins.

CAP [Central Appalachian Forest Working Group]. 1998. Central Appalachian Working group discussions. The Nature Conservancy, Boston, MA.

Clancy, K. 1996. Natural communities of Delaware. Unpublished review draft. Delaware Natural Heritage Program, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Smyrna, DE. 52 pp.

Cowardin, L. M., V. Carter, F. C. Golet, and E. T. LaRoe. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Biological Service Program. FWS/OBS-79/31. Washington, DC. 103 pp.

Eastern Ecology Working Group of NatureServe. No date. International Ecological Classification Standard: International Vegetation Classification. Terrestrial Vegetation. NatureServe, Boston, MA.

Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero, editors. 2002. Ecological communities of New York state. Second edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's ecological communities of New York state. (Draft for review). New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY.

Fike, J. 1999. Terrestrial and palustrine plant communities of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Recreation. Bureau of Forestry. Harrisburg, PA. 86 pp.

Gawler, S. C. 2002. Natural landscapes of Maine: A guide to vegetated natural communities and ecosystems. Maine Natural Areas Program, Department of Conservation, Augusta, ME. [in press]

Harrison, J. W., compiler. 2004. Classification of vegetation communities of Maryland: First iteration. A subset of the International Classification of Ecological Communities: Terrestrial Vegetation of the United States, NatureServe. Maryland Natural Heritage Program, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Annapolis. 243 pp.

Hill, A. F. 1923. The vegetation of the Penobscot Bay region, Maine. Proceedings of the Portland Society of Natural History 3:307-438.

NatureServe 2010. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, VA. Available http://www.natureserv.org/explorer (accessed: 23 November 2011).

Northern Appalachian Ecology Working Group. 2000. Northern Appalachian / Boreal Ecoregion community classification (Review Draft). The Nature Conservancy, Eastern Conservation Science Center, Boston, MA. 117 pp. plus appendices.

Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). 1999. Inventory Manual of Procedure. For the Fourth State Forest Management Plan. Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, Division of Forest Advisory Service.  Harrisburg, PA. 51 ppg.

Sperduto, D. D. 2000b. A classification of wetland natural communities in New Hampshire. New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory, Department of Resources and Economic Development, Division of Forests and Lands. Concord, NH. 156 pp.

Stone, B., D. Gustafson, and B. Jones. 2006 (revised). Manual of Procedure for State Game Land Cover Typing.  Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, Forest Inventory and Analysis Section, Forestry Division.  Harrisburg, PA. 79 ppg.

Swain, P. C., and J. B. Kearsley. 2000. Classification of natural communities of Massachusetts. July 2000 draft. Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Westborough, MA.

Thompson, E. 1996. Natural communities of Vermont uplands and wetland. Nongame and Natural Heritage Program, Department of Fish and Wildlife in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, Vermont chapter. 34 pp.

Thompson, E. H., and E. R. Sorenson. 2000. Wetland, woodland, wildland: A guide to the natural communities of Vermont. The Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. University Press of New England, Hanover, NH. 456 pp.

Cite as:
Eichelberger, B. 2022. Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. Bulrush Marsh Factsheet. Available from: https://naturalheritage.state.pa.us/Community.aspx?=16001 Date Accessed: November 26, 2022

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